More than a decade after leaving the White House, Bill Clinton has yet to release his grip on our collective imagination. The country bumpkin who makes it big in the big city, only to stumble over his own appetites and ambitions—be he Youngblood Hawke, Lonesome Rhodes, or (an utterly sinister specimen) Flem Snopes—has long been a central theme of American mythology, at once inspiring and tragic.
Clinton—a four-hour, two-part documentary that airs Monday and Tuesday night (Feb. 20 and 21) as an installment in PBS’s “American Experience” series—dives deeply into both emotional currents in its splendid chronicle of the talented, charismatic yet wounded boy who rose from the watermelon patch of Hope, Ark., to become the 42nd president of the United States.
For the dissolute Clinton and his stoic wife, Hillary, the tougher but more vulnerable of the two, every triumph is followed by an equal and opposite disaster, and every near-death experience precedes a resurrection. As former White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers points out, Clinton is a man who believes in endless second chances. “He always gets up and tries to make it better,” Myers says. “What else can you ask from a sinner?”